Dreams and disasters on the banks of the Brahmaputra: dwelling and aspiration in Majuli, Northeast India

  • Tom Boyd

Student thesis: Phd


Popular representations of the riverine district of Majuli in Assam, Northeast India, oscillate between depictions of a calm spiritual hub and as a land possessing a bleak and melancholic future owing to annual inundation and riverbank erosion. Glancing out across these increasingly amplified transcreations, this thesis drawing on 15-months of ethnographic fieldwork examines residents' aspirations for work and dwelling along the banks of the Brahmaputra. It traces how the quotidian comes to be shaped by them but also the new horizons that they point towards as well as push away from. Attending to the contents of residents' ambitions and dread through existing and speculative projects of infrastructure and dwelling provide surfaces for a multiplicity of imagined forms of future flourishing to come into view. This approach not only opens up and enlivens the relationship between "remote" places and the state but also the ambivalent orientations on the part of residents towards the forging of new connections with the region, country and international neighbours. Amidst shrinking lands, an entrenched rural livelihoods crisis and a vitalist politics of belonging and inclusion, I argue that an analytical concern with aspirations (and their discontents) as they rise up, permeate and are framed through the above affective objects affords crucial nuance in how scholars understand and represent the lived complexity and contradictions for those who live on the banks of protean rivers and neglectful states.
Date of Award1 Aug 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorJeanette Edwards (Supervisor) & Soumhya Venkatesan (Supervisor)


  • Hope
  • Infrastructure
  • Seasons and seasonality
  • Hospitality
  • Aspiration
  • Remoteness
  • Dwelling
  • Futures
  • Belonging
  • Environment
  • Livelihoods
  • Flooding
  • Anthropology
  • India
  • Northeast India
  • Assam
  • Erosion
  • Brahmaputra
  • Rivers
  • River islands
  • Majuli

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